Thursday, November 19, 2009

My Bike: Persia's Zurvan Ruse

In the period following Zoroaster, for which little evidence remains, Zoroastrianism consolidated its position and spread throughout Iran. The rise of the southern Persians and Medes seems to have been accompanied by the reinstatement of many of the ahuras, although Ahura Mazda is still recognized as supreme god. Among the most important figures to revive at this time were Mithra (see Mithraism), usually associated with the Sun, and Anahita, associated with the waters and fertility.

Ahura Mazda (who becomes Ormazd) becomes identified with Spenta Mainyu, and Angra Mainyu (Ahriman) remains his antagonist.

Ahura Mazda has relinquished some of his absolute supremacy and appears to need the assistance of the lesser ahuras, particularly Mithra, who appears as mediator and protector of the created world.

This dualist view eventually became the orthodox position. Its development may have owed much to the magi, a hereditary priestly caste, although their role is unclear. Nevertheless, from them the Greco-Roman world learned much of what it knew of the religion. An important reform
movement, however, arose within ZoroastrianismÑthe movement around Zurvan.

The Zurvanites posited a supreme god, Zurvan (Infinite Time), who had sacrificed for 1,000 years in order to gain offspring. At the end of that time he experienced momentary doubt, and from that doubt arose Ahriman; at the same time, Ormazd came into being because of the efficacy of the sacrifices. At the end of 3,000 years Ahriman crossed the void that separated them and attacked Ormazd. The two made a pact to limit the struggle, and Ahriman fell back into the abyss, where he lay for 3,000 years. During that period Ormazd created the material and spiritual world; in retaliation, Ahriman called into being six demons and an opposing material world. In the next 3,000-year period Ahriman attempted to corrupt the creation of Ormazd; he was successful but was trapped in the world of light.

The final period of 3,000 years was ushered in by the birth of Zoroaster, who revealed this struggle to humanity; the prophet is to be followed by three saviors, appearing at intervals of 1,000 years. At the appearance of the last, a day of judgment will occur, the drink of immortality will be offered to those who have fought against Ahriman, and a new creation will be established.

The sacred literature of Zoroastrianism is found in the Avesta, which was compiled sometime during the Sassanian period (AD 224-640) from much earlier materials. Only a portion of the Avesta remains, but the language of its earliest sections is extremely ancient, closely related
to that of the Indian Vedas. These sections, the Gathas, are thought to be by Zoroaster himself.

The Sculptor